Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, ranks as America’s sixth-largest city, and in the summer it seems even larger. It boasts one of the country’s largest Fourth of July (Independence Day) celebrations, attracting hordes of patriotic Americans from up and down the east coast. Numerous parades and festivals unfold in the summer months and the city’s historic hotspots make it a magnet for even more visitors from far and wide.
But all this extra action equals traffic-jammed highways and overzealous tourists in the historic district who stop short in front of you to snap yet another picture of the Liberty Bell.
Take my advice and journey to the City of Brotherly Love in the autumn season, when it comes alive but doesn’t overwhelm with big crowds and hard-to-reach attractions. You’ll get some more personal space while scoping out the main events and landmarks.
Eastern State Penitentiary
Several years ago, I first visited Eastern State Penitentiary for a run-of-the-mill tour of “America’s Most Historic Prison.” Going in the autumn guarantees a thinner crowd and more time to spend investigating the crevices and cramped cells. Plus, while the walk through the massive grounds proves scary enough on its own, autumn brings Halloween spook as the historic spot transforms into America’s #1 haunted house. “Terror Behind the Walls” tours start up in mid-September and last past Halloween. On most nights, you can get tickets at the door. Bonus: if you do “Terror Behind the Walls,” you get a discount on a regular daytime tour.
The Philadelphia Live Arts Festival and Philly Fringe
A girlfriend and I attended the Philadelphia Live Arts and Philly Fringe for nine years running. The late-August to mid-September display of performing arts ranging from modern dance to interactive comedy acts never gets boring. One year, I watched a mostly silent play that took place in the back of a large moving van. Another year, I watched puppets pontificate on the Bush administration.
Events take place throughout the city, with coffee shops, restaurants and public spaces often serving as the performance venues – many also offering discounts to Fringe and Live Arts patrons. Most events cost $5 to $20, but a good portion is free. And since there’s so much to choose from and many groups hold several performances over several weeks, crowds and sell-outs stay to a minimum, except for the few uber-popular shows.
Beer and Brew Fests
Philly loves its beer and autumn abounds with events for suds-savorers. The well-attended Philly Craft Beer Festival doesn’t take place until March, but smaller-scale offerings, such as Dogfish Head Brew and Chew, set up shop at local pubs. Last autumn, friends and I attended Beer Camp, which for $10 got us a sampling of dozens of beers in addition to gourmet sandwiches from a local restaurant.
There are so many small happenings, you can enjoy yourself in a group setting instead of a sweaty, claustrophobic one. We all know the latter is never good when you’ve been imbibing.
You came to visit the city, but don’t forget all the suburban areas have to offer. Just a 30-minute drive up Interstate 95 lies Bucks County, home to quaint farms, canoeing and kayaking opportunities on the famous Delaware River, as well as Peddler’s Village, which holds scarecrow and apple festivals in the fall. I’ve attended both events with friends and the live music, tubs of apple cider, sweet autumn treats and array of shops make it a fun and low-cost activity for a Saturday afternoon. There’s also free parking.
Nearby Montgomery County boasts Valley Forge National Park, a place where you can indulge in more history or go for a jog or bike ride. The Chadds Ford Winery sits in Delaware County along with Linvilla Orchards, while Chester County offers Longwood Gardens if you’re into fruit picking and flower peeping.
If you’ve got a little more time to spare, make the 90-minute drive north to the Pocono Mountains, which supply antique shopping spots and outdoorsy adventure, even if the ski slopes still sit bare. The same distance west leaves you in Lancaster County, the home of the Amish.
Wherever you roam, the fall foliage will be in full force and local coffee shops and bakeries will be selling seasonal pumpkin drinks and desserts.